At a panel discussion Friday hosted by Justice at Stake, I was struck again by the importance of relationships with readers as the digital revolution re-writes the rules for newsgathering.
A couple of my co-panelists touched on two important aspects of the changing relationship that ultimately will determine whether nonprofits, especially smaller niche players, will survive for the long haul.
Jason Barnett (no relation, but he seems to be a stand-up guy) of The UpTake stressed the importance of maintaining a dialogue with readers. If a reader tweets The UpTake, The UpTake tweets back. "It does take a lot of time, but that's the way the world is going to be," he said. "You can't just push your information out."
Now, the money part. The relationships built with that kind of effort have to translate to a sustainable level of support from readers.
Another of my co-panelists, Blake de Pastino, of the Center for Independent Media offered a related thought: Someday, he'd like to have a button next to each story that allows readers to make a contribution if they liked it.
What Blake didn't say (but I think is implied) is that readers are more likely to contribute money to a story to which they also have contributed ideas - or a story that expresses a similar thought they had while driving or in the shower.
So here's the key for nonprofits doing journalism: The social value that readers place in relationships with their news sources is, to some extent, taking the place of the cold economic value that newspaper readers once created by paying for subscriptions.
The problem may be that the new model goes only so far. One of the startups most attuned to the power of relationships with readers is Voice of San Diego. But the good folks at VOSD know that it's not enough. In an interview with CUNY's News Innovation, editor Matthew Donohue says he is considering syndication, paid obituaries and for-hire reporting.